As the state’s capital, Austin is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Texas. It is also home to some of Texas’ most historically significant landmarks and greatest attractions. No matter how long you are staying in this city, you will find plenty of activities to keep you entertained during your visit, and there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. Even if you visit the area with very little spending money, you can find lots of things to see and do for hardly any money. In fact, there are some amazing activities that you can enjoy for free and this will keep the overall cost of your vacation down. To help you plan your itinerary on a limited budget, here are 20 awesome free things to do in Austin, Texas.
1. Admire the Surroundings at Barton Creek Greenbelt
If you want to enjoy the quieter side of life in Austin and see one of the prettiest areas, then head to Barton Creek Greenbelt. This stretches for more than seven miles, just south of downtown Austin. People head to this picturesque part of Texas to enjoy walking, swimming, cycling, and birdwatching. It is such a peaceful and pretty place that it is hard to imagine you are just outside the city.
2. See the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
A little-known fact about Austin is that it is home to the largest urban colony of bats in the United States. These bats live at Congress Avenue Bridge, which was built in 1980. The design of the bridge meant that there were ridges underneath that were ideal for bats to roost. Bats then began moving there in their thousands. It is estimated that there are now 1.5 million bats in the Congress Avenue Bridge colony. When they emerge at dusk, it is a magnificent sight that attracts tourists from across the globe. Each night, you will see crowds of spectators gathered to watch this spectacle.
3. Visit the Harry Ransom Center
The Harry Ransom Center is part of the University of Texas and it opened in 1957. Visitors to this center can see its collection of one million rare books, 36 million literary manuscripts, five million photographs, and over one hundred thousand artistic works. Some of the permanent exhibitions on display include the world’s first photograph and one of five copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the United States.
4. Enjoy the Vibe at Waterloo Records’ Shows
If you are willing to pay for the cover, then there are many great places you can visit to enjoy music. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy music for free, then you can enjoy a free music show at Waterloo Records. At this store, there are one-off performances from touring artists, and these are often held in the afternoons. Another bonus is that they often serve free beer to people in the crowd who are over 21.
5. Dance at Barbarella
There are many amazing clubs and bars in Austin that have a great vibe, but you will need to pay a cover at most of these. One that you can enter for free to enjoy a night of dancing is Barbarella. Throughout the week, this music venue hosts themed nights. One of the most popular nights is Tuesday’s Tuesgayz. If you enjoy music from the 80s, then opt to visit on a Footloose Friday. If emo, pop, or punk are more your thing, then the best night to visit is Jimmy Eat Wednesday. Regardless of which night you visit, it makes sense to take along a little cash to enjoy a drink from the bar.
6. Visit Mayfield Park
Located in West Austin, Mayfield Park and Preserve is the perfect place to spend the day if you want to enjoy the outdoors and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is a beautiful park where many people head simply to enjoy the stunning gardens. It is also a good place to relax with a picnic. One of the highlights of a visit here is watching the peacocks walking around the park. These creatures were first introduced to the park in 1935.
7. Take Advantage of Free Gallery and Museum Days
Many art galleries and museums in Austin have days that are open to the public for free each month. One of these is the Blanton Museum of Art, which is open for free every Thursday. The museum is home to artworks from all over the world and from various eras. For fans of contemporary art, you may prefer to visit the Contemporary Austin on their free Tuesdays. The art gallery exhibits the work of many renowned artists, including Jim Hodges and Rodney MacMillan. Within this venue are the Gatehouse Gallery and the Betty and Marcus Sculpture Park. If you are interested in the history of Texas, then you should visit the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
8. Spend an Evening at Backyard Story Night
If you want some evening entertainment that doesn’t revolve around music or comedy, then you might consider getting involved with Backyard Story Night. These nights are held in various venues across Austin, and each night has a different theme. The themes are used for inspiration so that people can get up and tell personal tales that relate to the chosen theme.
9. Enjoy a Free Yoga Session
There are several places in Austin where you can join in a free yoga session. One of these is Cherrywood Coffeehouse. From Monday through to Friday, there are free yoga sessions held each morning between 9 and 10 pm. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have your own mat as you can borrow one.
10. Learn to Dance at The White Horse Saloon
Something a little different from the usual attractions and entertainment for tourists is the free dance lessons you can take at The White Horse Saloon. Regulars meet nightly at this venue to dance the night away, and it is free for you to join in with the fun. If you want to brush up on your skills, then turn up for a free dance lesson at 7 pm. On Wednesdays, you can learn Cajun dance, while on Thursdays, you can take a lesson in swing dancing. If you want to learn the Texas two-step, then turn up for one of the Friday or Saturday dance lessons.
11. Go to Texas State Capitol
This is one of the most famous landmarks in Austin and it is known for both its historical significance to the area and for its impressive architecture. The Texas State Capitol is probably the best place to learn about the history of Austin and Texas, and you can take a free self-guided tour daily. There are also special tour days held throughout the year that focus on specific aspects of Texan history, such as women in Texan history, early Texas artists, and honoring Texas veterans. Check this attraction’s website to see what is happening before you depart for your vacation.
12. Enjoy Outdoor Live Music
If you are visiting during the summer months, there are many venues that host free music events. Two of the best are Unplugged at the Grove and Blues on the Green. The former is a series of free events held on Thursdays between April and September. The latter is held monthly between May and August at Zilker Park. If you want to enjoy either of these events, take along a picnic and blanket.
13. Admire the Art of Elizabeth Ney
Elizabeth Ney was a famous German sculptor who moved to Austin in 1882 and lived there until her death in 1907. The Elizabeth Ney Museum exhibits this sculptor’s pieces, which she created between the 1850s and her death. Her work is complemented by the work of contemporary artists, so there is a variety of pieces to admire. The museum, which is Ney’s former studio, is set in stunning grounds that you can also enjoy during your visit.
14. See an Outdoor Movie Screening
During the summer months, a fantastic free activity to enjoy is an outdoor screening of a movie. Head for the lawn outside the Long Center and you can enjoy one of the Sound & Cinema events. These events are collaboratively produced by the Texas Lottery, Alamo Drafthouse, and Do512. The outdoor screen is set against the backdrop of the spectacular illuminated skyline of Austin. To make the most of the experience, take along some bubbly and some snacks.
15. Enjoy a Rooftop Swim
Using the swimming facilities at a luxurious hotel is something that is usually reserved for the hotel’s guests. However, The Westin Austin has public opening hours for its rooftop pool that are completely free. You can use the pool from mid-afternoon until late at night every day of the week. An interesting fact is that this hotel’s rooftop pool is the highest rooftop pool in Austin.
16. Have Fun at a Free Comedy Show
There are several venues across Austin where you can enjoy a free comedy show. One of the best venues is the King Bee Lounge, which hosts free comedy nights on the first Wednesday of every month. If your visit falls on the first week of the month, then this is a fantastic choice of evening entertainment. You should take a little cash with you to enjoy the refreshments on offer, although this is not compulsory.
17. Take a Free Dip at Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is a pretty natural spring where you can take a dip to cool off. Usually, there is a fee to swim in Barton Springs, although local residents do get reduced rates. However, Thrillist says you can swim for free at Barton Springs Pool if you go for a late evening dip between nine and 10 pm.
18. Learn About Mexican Culture
Texas’ location next to Mexico means that there are many links between the two places. Many Mexicans who have moved across the border have settled in Mexico, so there is a strong Mexican culture in this state. Two of the best places to learn more about this are Mexic-Arte and the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. While the former is only free to enter on Sundays, the latter is free to enter every day.
19. Dig for Fossils at Austin Nature & Science Center
The Austin Nature & Science Center is located next to Zilker Park. The aim of this museum is to raise awareness of the natural environment. There are many interesting exhibitions and some educational workshops to enjoy. However, the highlight of a visit here, especially for children, is the chance to dig for real dinosaur fossils.
20. Enjoy Free Festivals
There are many exciting festivals that take place throughout the year in Austin, Texas. Therefore, you should check what is on in the area during the time of your visit before you visit. One annual festival is the Texas Book Festival, which features more than 250 acclaimed authors, live music, various activities, and over 80 exhibitors. Another great festival is the annual Dragon Boat Festival. The event is held on Lady Bird Lake and it recreates a tradition that is more than 2,000 years old. Other festivals to catch include the Zilker Kite Festival, Pecan Street Festival, and Free Week.